SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Villanova looked more than ready Saturday for its duel against No. 2 Syracuse, taking an 18-point lead over the Orange with the game barely nine minutes old.
But the Orange, fueled by a loud throng of 28,135 at the Carrier Dome, erased the deficit in about 5 ½ minutes, played a solid second half and defeated the eighth-ranked Wildcats, 78-62, in a battle of unbeatens.
James Bell kept the Wildcats (11-1) in the game for much of the second half, scoring 25 points, including six three-point baskets, before fouling out with 1 minute, 42 seconds left to play.
But the Orange (12-0) got big games from Trevor Cooney, Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, with the three combining for 58 points – 21 by Cooney, 20 by Ennis – a freshman and the younger brother of Villanova guard Dylan Ennis – and 17 by Fair.
Villanova got off to a sizzling start, hitting its first four three-point attempts and connecting on eight of 12 field-goal tries, to open up an early cushion. Freshman Josh Hart knocked down a three-point basket and a dunk to end a 16-2 run that increased the Wildcats' lead to 18, 25-7, with 10:55 left in the half.
But the Cats didn't score again for nearly seven minutes and the Orange went to work on the sizeable deficit. Cooney hit a pair of threes and two free throws to touch off what would become a 20-0 run, and Fair contributed a three-ball, a dunk and a free throws.
Jerami Grant hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 5:36 to play to tie the game at 25-all, and then Tyler Ennis sank a reverse layup on the next time downcourt to give the Orange their first lead. Dylan Ennis broke the Nova drought on a basket with 4:07 to play.
After going down by 18, Syracuse outscored Villanova 31-9 and took a 38-34 lead at the half.
Bell sank a three-point basket on the Wildcats' first possession of the second half to make it a one-point game, but the Orange tallied the next nine points, capped by Cooney's three-point basket that increased their advantage to 10.
The Wildcats never were able to get the deficit under five points until Bell's three-point basket with 7:21 remaining made it 56-52, and 'Nova knocked another point off when Daniel Ochefu made the front end of a 1-and-1.
But the Orange struck for the next five points on Cooney's three and two free throws by Fair to make it 61-53 with 5:24 to play. The Wildcats were able to get to within five later on Bell's final three of the game, making it 64-59 with 3:26 to play but Syracuse spurted 14-3 at the end thanks to free throws.